If you love:
- Blasting through mountains of virgin pow
- Riding down some of the best tree runs and back country trails in the world
- Eating some of the most delicious food after a full day on the slopes
Then you need to pack your bags and book “Niseko, Japan” as your next snowboarding vacation destination. Niseko is located in the northern island of Japan; a hidden powder heaven with some of the best conditions and resorts on the planet.
Keep reading for my insider, private tips!
I’ve been going to Niseko yearly and every season I challenge myself to make each trip better than the last. In this article, I’m going to share with you my private, insider tips. Including the exact best day to travel to the slopes, what type of equipment you should prepare, and some of the best places to eat and drink during your stay.
If you’re going to plan your dream Japan snowboarding vacation, this is your guide!
WHEN TO GO
The peak season to go every year is between Christmas and the second week of March. This is when conditions are best. On a good day, Niseko can have over 200 cm of snow piled at the peak, with powder snow everywhere, even on the groomed slopes.
Be warned however- it’s best to book your accommodation and flights at least 6 months to a year in advance before things are filled up and expensive. The weeks of between Christmas/ New Year, and the week of Chinese New Year (which changes every year) are particularly crowded, so I always do my research and avoid them.
Pro tip: If you were to go only once per year, the absolute best time to go is around March the 5th. That’s the beginning of the shoulder season so hotels are cheaper but the conditions are still amazing and there’s still tons of pow to go round!
WHERE TO GO
Niseko is home to 4 interconnected ski areas: Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village and Annupuri. Buying a day pass, which will set you back ¥7,400, will give you access to all 4 areas.
My favorite part is that after sunset, the floodlights turn on, so you can keep on shredding through the main section of the mountain (Hirafu) at night until the lifts close at 8:30 pm.
My personal favorite area is Hanazono. It’s perfect for the more experienced snowboarder looking for an adventure. Here’s why:
- The fruit bowl- as the regulars call it. It’s made up of three hidden inbound tree runs the Strawberry, Blueberry, and Banana fields, with unbelievable amounts of pow. Strawberry and Blueberry are in between Silver Dream and Stairway to Heaven; while Banana is a skier’s left of Legend of Shinya. These tree sections aren’t on your trail map so look out for breaks in the boundary ropes for entry. (Or if you’re really want to know details, email us at [email protected] and I give you exact directions.)
- Hanazono has the easiest access to off piste and back country trails in Niseko. You would get off the 3rd lift (Hanozono Hooded Quad Lift #3) and walk 10 minutes to the gate 4 which would take you to the backcountry. Many of the other gates require you to take certain lifts and/or hike for 20-30 minutes to reach the back country, so you can see why I prefer Hanazono.
You’ll find it to be less crowded than other areas like Hirafu because it’s runs tend to be steeper.
Be warned though- if you go from the bottom to the top, it will take you just over 20 mins to take all three lifts… And none of them have footrests!
WHAT BOARD TO PACK
If you’re going to shred in powder, you absolutely need to beg, steal, or borrow a powder board. If you go with a park board, be prepared to dive in the powder, instead of float on top of it. I personally use a Moss Snowstick when riding in deep powder and in back country. It has a fish tail which is great for maneuverability, especially for turning around trees.
You definitely need to check the base of your snowboard and make sure it’s waxed and ready for gliding over snow. Another check I always do is run my nail lightly past the edges of the board. If the chaffing comes off, that’s good because it means my board is sharp enough. How sharp your edges are is down to personal preference, but because I like to do a lot of carving I like to make sure they’re always kept sharp.
Pro tip: if you don’t have a powder board and/or want to try a local Japanese board that is specially designed to hand this is deep powder, ask around for the “Gentam Stick” demo center. There are locations in Hirafu and Annipuri (http://www.powcom.net/en/) where you can rent one for a day or two.
EATING AND DRINKING
If you’re in Annupuri, put your board on a rack and head over to the green hut of Del Sole Pizza. In my humble opinion, this restaurant serves one of the best pizzas in the World! They serve brick-oven pizzas that are the perfect balance of cheesiness and oiliness. They make your pizza fresh so the dough is soft and spongy. After a morning of hard riding, there’s nothing like having a cold beer and Del Sole Pizza!
Pro tip: make plans to go early (before the lunch rush at 12) as seats are limited and they routinely sell out of pizzas.[/alert]
At the bottom of the Annupuri mountain, directly across the gondola entrance, is a Japanese food truck that serves burgers and wedged fries. The truck is white in color and sits beside a warm wooden hut where you can thaw out inside and enjoy your burger.
The meat is super juicy and the bun is soft like marshmallows. It’s not just the burger that’s good, their wedged fries are heavenly too! They’re freshly made and piping hot when handed it to you. Together with the fact that it’s perfectly salted! Just the thought of it makes my mouth water!
Pro tip: They also sell Dr. Pepper at the truck. Order any burger you like while sipping some Dr. Pepper and wait for your mouth to have an orgasm![/alert]
EXPLORING THE BACKCOUNTRY
If you’re an experienced, powder hungry shredder like me wanting to make the most of their trip, you absolutely must check out Niseko’s back country
Hiding between the Nook Annupuri (the roundabout where you catch the Niseko United bus) and the Annupuri Gondola is Niseko Powder Company. This awesome place is run by a bunch of local powder hounds.
They are all amazing snowboarders and everybody is super knowledgeable about the surrounding areas. Join their backcountry guided tour and I guarantee you will never see more powder in your life!
Pro tip: Hire Kage for the day to photograph your epic trip. He shoots for National Geographic and his photos are amazing! Opt in to get all his images instead of just a few, trust me. You won’t regret it!
So that’s all the tips I have for you! I hope you’ve learned something that you won’t find anywhere else on the net.
If you’re planning a trip to Niseko and want some more specific advice, I’m always happy to help, that place is my backyard. Hit me up at [email protected], but until then, see you on the slopes!